Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category

Ruth: “Nick, “When do you think you’ll have your proposed blog entry ready?”

Nick: “I’m hoping to be able to sketch you something soon.”

Ruth: “Is ‘something soon’ your target?”

Nick: “Yes.”

Ruth:” It doesn’t sound all that SMART a target to me.”

Ruth is, of course absolutely spot on; my suggested ‘target’ was neither SMART nor was it smart. You’re probably familiar with the acronym SMART in the context of setting targets – it’s the idea that targets must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely in order to be successful. Using this checklist, you can see that my target was too vague, and therefore bound to fail.

My favourite example of a SMART target can be found in President John F Kennedy’s speech to the US Congress in May 1961; the context is the Cold War and (obviously) the Space Race. Kennedy (and/or his team of speechwriters) came up with something that I regard as fairly flawless and in fact exemplary:

“I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

As you can see, although this target was ambitious, it was also conforms to all of the standards of a SMART target. If you disagree, please comment below!

Being able to formulate a SMART target is a skill that every project manager needs to acquire- however, the benefits of SMART targets extend well beyond the working world. It means that projects have a measurable chance of success from the very start, rather than a series of vague outcomes which won’t result in behavioural change.
However, what about training learners online to conform to SMART targets? Most elearning courses begin with a series of learning objectives, and generally these objectives are all stated in a similar form: “Having completed this course, you will be able to…” As we all know, the learning objectives should then continue with a verb.

However, often, I see such verbs as ‘list’ or ‘state’ or ‘describe’ or even, in one case,(I’m not making this up, honestly) ‘recite’. These verbs are nearly always inappropriate for workplace e-learning. Why? First, because they are not testable online in the way that they may be testable in a classroom with a trainer present. Second, because stating, listing and describing (not to mention reciting) are rarely suitable workplace behaviours, so it’s extremely unlikely that the client or sponsor for the really wants to train their people in such behaviour. Workplace training should be about the everyday choices that people make. Hence the verbs in learning objectives should be about testable choices such as ‘select’ ‘identify and ‘distinguish’.

Let me give you an example from an online course about the UK Bribery Act 2010. In the UK, the law on bribery is quite stringent, but at the same time hospitality has not been banned outright. In these circumstances, it seems reasonable to me that the learning objectives should be: “Having completed this course, you will be able to distinguish an acceptable gift from an illegal bribe.” I suggest that we can generalise from this example.

Often it makes sense to me that we train our learners to be critics rather than authors. Rather than setting the over-ambitious (and probably not testable) objectives “Having read this blog post you will be able to formulate SMART targets.” I’d much rather that we say “Having read this blog post you will be able to identify where a proposed target fails to be SMART and to find ways to remedy those failings. As always the art lies in finding options that are incorrect but at the same time plausible. A significant yet common failing of e-learning, particularly compliance training, is that the correct and the incorrect options are both far too obvious, leaving the poor learners with the feeling that they are being patronised – a surefire way of losing their interest and attention.

So next time you’re designing learning, make sure that it’s focused in this way – if you’ve got SMART learning objectives, you’re well on your way to designing a course that will fulfil your requirements. Learners will be able to implement the behaviours they’ve been trained in and make an impact, rather than just ‘listing’ or ‘reciting’ what they’ve learnt. In the early stages of a project, securing learner’s enthusiasm is absolutely vital. John F. Kennedy recognised this during his speech, stating that ‘every technician, contractor and civil servant must give his personal pledge that this nation will move forwards’. There is no replacement for engagement and enthusiasm at every level of an organisation, and a SMART target is a great place to start!

Increasingly here at Saffron, we’ve been asked to create courses so that they’re suitable for translation. In today’s globalised business world, working across linguistic borders has become extremely common. This means it’s essential that you remember that any content you’re writing may need to be translated throughout the design process.

When working in this way, attention to detail becomes vital, and although working in translation may seem like a daunting task, it doesn’t have to be this way. Below are my top five tips for creating a course in translation to make it as easy as possible.

  • Special characters – To display special characters which feature accents, or are not taken from the Latin alphabet (the one we use in English) in web pages, we have to specify them as HTML codes. This page contains the familiar names and corresponding numerical codes to use to display foreign characters

  • Layout – Always double space any content because content in other languages may be lengthier than in English. For example, for a quiz interaction which would require showing a question, answer options and feedback in a resolution of 1000x700px, consider that the layout should allow enough room to contain at least double the size of the content in English

  • Images – It’s always better to use images common to all languages to avoid any last minute surprises. These images must be instantly recognisable to people from all backgrounds. It’s best to make sure that everything is as clear and simple as possible.  Images with content might need translation, so list them all and plan during the project kick off stage

  • Translation items – Prepare a list of items like navigation buttons or links which need to be translated beforehand. If the changes are left during the development stage, there is a chance that they won’t be found until the final review is carried out. The easiest way to work through this systematically is to use an excel document and create columns for each language, and get them all translated in advance

  • Links – Check out the links which might link up to pages written in the incorrect language. Tooltips or Alt texts are often left out in English, though they should be included when working with other languages, so this should also be considered

  • So, there you have it, my top five tips to consider when creating courses or websites in translation. Having to work in this way is great when it comes to learning, because it means that we constantly have to be mindful of the most straightforward learning strategy we can possibly use. As well as condiering the fact that learning must be easy to understand for learners of all ability levels, but also that it must be easy to understand for people of different nationalities.

    It’s really important to be aware that your work may need to be translated right from the start of the design process, rather than only thinking about it at the final stage of development. With the growth of multi-national organisations seeking elearning content, this is more important than ever before, and, if you follow these tips you’ll find that you don’t have to be an expert linguist to be able to start working on translation.

    Who doesn’t like cartoons? Illustrations are designed to break up large amounts of text, introducing fun and laughter into the process. More than any other type of television, I can still remember the cartoons that brought me so much joy as a child.

    So it makes sense that illustration remains one of the major points of graphic design. Illustration itself pre-dates civilization – even cavemen were fans of drawing.

    According to the dual-code theory, hypothesised by Allan Paivio in 1971, pictures are twice as memorable as text as they mean that the lesson imprints twice on the memory – once as a visual image, and again as a verbal association. As my childhood, cartoon-based memories will testify, illustrations really are a fun and memorable way to learn. They serve a real purpose, rather than just adding aesthetic value to a course. They also have a universal appeal that will ensure your lessons outlast page after page of instruction. Illustrations can simplify complex learning concepts as complicated ideas can be made in to tree diagrams, and charts, meaning that they’re easier for learners to understand, and, crucially, remember the lessons they’ve learnt.

    There are so many ways to create illustration; I’ve used pen and pencils, as well as the more modern approaches involving digitally merging photos and drawings. I want to make sure that illustrations are so clear that the learner will be able to gain a large amount of knowledge in a short time.

    When you first looked at this blog post, I’m sure your eye was drawn to the illustrations rather than the text itself. Illustration grabs the learner’s attention in a way that text can’t, and illustration can help to build the story-building process. Another benefit of illustration is that facial expressions it might be difficult to show in real life characters can be achieved very easily in illustrations. We can depict a vast range of expressions, as you can see below:

    But how can drawings help to get learners engaged with an elearning course?

    Using illustration is also good news for business, as well as learners. It’s a cost-effective solution, saving time and money that would otherwise be spent on expensive photo-shoots. There are ways to ensure that illustrations reflect branding by stylising the drawings and changing features such as the colour shapes and line-thickness.

    When a client approaches me, there are a few steps I take to ensure that the end results will persuade any company of the value of illustration when it comes to eLearning:

    • The first thing I do is to go through the storyboard with the client’s brand guidelines and topics. It’s important to ensure that the style is in line with branding. In the past, I’ve worked with clients who have been reluctant to use illustration, fearing that it will mark a drastic break away from their brand. However, that’s really not the case. Mixing photography and illustration is a great way to ensure that illustration benefits, rather than damages, brand recognition
    • Next, I try to put myself in learner`s shoes and read the content. For illustrations to be effective, they must start with real scenarios and real people. Once I’m sure that my designs will be compliant with branding guidelines, I start to look at the illustrations from the learner’s point of view. Is the target learner a teenager, middle aged or older? The severity of the subject matter is also important to bear in mind when creating illustrations for an elearning course, as it will affect the types of illustration required


    Illustrations are one of the best ways to ensure that the lessons of your elearning course are straightforward and memorable. Including illustrations in elearning courses can be great for learners and brands alike.

    As teachers and other learning professionals will often tell you, imparting information to students is one thing, but to get them to remember and then apply it is a whole different ball game. So how do we achieve this holy grail of learning? It all comes down to the way information is retrieved and processed.

    The means of acquiring and processing information that the brain uses depend on how it is stimulated. This means that it’s important to recognise which brain mechanism is appropriate for the type of training you want to deliver. Here are some top tips for delivering a learning innovation that changes behaviour on a fast-acting, intuitive level:

    Top Tips:

    1) Make them fail: We’re not saying set impossible challenges that will demotivate your learners and cause them to lose confidence; this would be counter-productive. Instead, set a challenge appropriate to the learning objectives and ability of your learners. Science writer Annie Murphie Paul has observed that learners need to solve problems on their own in order to embed the learning. Learning through problem solving will also build the synaptic structures necessary to transfer learning from the procedural (or automated) response, to the intuitive/emotional response. By interacting directly with the learning activity, learners will be jolted out of passivity, into the emotionally engaged learners you want them to be. Which brings us to our next tip…

    2) Get emotional: The brain is incredibly efficient at filtering out extraneous information to focus on the job in hand. So good in fact, that we can often miss the most obvious cues. For a great example of this, check out this short video. So how do we take selective attention in to account when designing a learning intervention? The best way is to elicit an emotional response from your audience – tell a story, show a video, show photos. Dry facts won’t always resonate, but show a relevant image or story and it will embed.

    3) Induce the ‘fear factor’: You can even increase this effect by evoking a negative emotional experience. Use this power of error to increase learner focus and engagement in a way that isn’t self-critical by asking learners to spot the mistakes of others. This approach is often easier than self-correction. With these ideas in mind, ask learners to interact by clicking on mistakes when they see someone committing them. Instilling the ‘fear factor’ can be a positive learning technique, as learners are more likely to remember what they have learnt if they can associate their errors with the memory of someone else correcting them. The resulting reaction will have a far greater chance mental imprinting and thus embedding the elearning. The reason emotional learning gets cognitive attention is because it ignores the semantic, entering directly instead in to the episodic memory centres where more complex and interwoven brain structures reside. The strong mental representations formed here result in faster emotional responses, rather than slower, rational ones. The end result? Lasting behavioural change.

    4) Learn over time: Learning doesn’t happen overnight and neither does neural pathway building. The true measure of learning effectiveness is measured in the long term, not just the short. A student may pass an exam, but test them 2 or 3 months later and you’ll see they haven’t retained what they’ve learned. To have an impact, the neural pathways must become well trodden. On the biological level, this builds stronger links that will eventually override the previously ingrained and proceduralised responses that we’re trying to retrain. So when designing a learning intervention, plan for more frequent, smaller sessions – 20 minutes is ideal. Also, when planning the learning objectives for each of these sessions, bear in mind that the average human brain can only recall 5-6 independent items (this is why telephone numbers were initially designed to include only 6 digits).

    5) Make it relevant: This may seem obvious, but it can so easily be over-looked, especially when the commercial imperative is to provide as much information as possible. If the learning is not meaningful and directly applicable, the brain will not encode it. Therefore always relate the content to your audience. By connecting the learning to the real world, the learner will be more likely to form a bond, and the information will be more likely to stick. A great way to transfer the information from the elearning environment to the working environment is to take a blended approach. Create a programme that utilises the full breadth of training tools available. A classroom component, and on the job activities can be especially useful when combined with elearning.

    So there you have it; next time you’re planning your content for a course, consider the neuro-scientific basis for how we learn. By considering these tips in your instruction design, you are more likely to deliver training that is memorable and instils the desired behaviour change.

    Recently, Toby and I attended the launch of AVA’s Digital Prevention Platform. The AVA Project is an online initiative aiming to keep education and social care workers informed about maintaining good practice when reporting disclosures of Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG).

    As it was my first week on the job, the course itself was an education for me about what good elearning can do to change behaviour. Nowhere is this desire for change more crucial than in the fight against VAWG. This morning’s launch included expert speakers – frontline staff, campaigners, Girl Guides and the NSPCC.

    The AVA Project works on the basis that preventing abuse is always preferable to curing it. We teamed up with AVA to educate teachers and set a standard of care and procedures that guarantee consistency amongst educators in all circumstances. It was wonderful to see the passion for change and enthusiasm for the project amongst experienced campaigners. Despite the often distressing subject matter, we wanted to assure practitioners that abuse is not something to be avoided; it must be addressed in order to be prevented.

    We collaborated with the AVA Project to design a thirty minute elearning course to educate teachers about different types of abuse. It also provided them with knowledge about how to deal with disclosures of incidents, as well as a database to help workers share resources, expertise and case studies.

    This is a project with real momentum. Everyone involved is deeply committed to the ‘prevention not cure’ approach towards abuse that AVA advocates. During the launch itself Holly Dustin, the director of the End Violence against Women coalition discussed just how acute the problem has become. She pointed to the social media backlash against Vanessa Feltz, who last week stated that she had been assaulted by Rolf Harris, as a shameful example of the vilification of the victim. For too long now, VAWG just hasn’t been taken seriously enough. Those at the conference wanted to see early intervention to shift attitudes and cultural values.

    It came as a shock to me just how widespread VAWG actually is. Last year there were 1.2 million reported victims of domestic abuse. It is clear that all of the disparate targets and expertise need to be brought together to form one united strategy to fight abuse. The Digital Prevention Platform does just this. It speaks with one united voice to inform and advise those in safeguarding roles. Those at the event were clear; if we expect children to feel able to disclose abuse, it is a conversation we need to be having as a society first.

    The course’s varied and engaging approach impressed those who had already taken the course, with the ‘real life’ scenarios proving especially helpful. In fact, a school in Cambridge has already integrated the course as part of an induction pack for new teachers starting work in September. The universal standards of good practice that elearning guarantees, along with the face to face aspects of classroom learning will ensure that the lessons from the course are embedded and put in to practise.

    The development of a database to unify resources across the board is also incredibly useful in a sector often divided into boroughs and local authorities. Feedback from youth and social workers was universally positive and extremely encouraging for the future of the Project; we propose to eventually use the AVA site to map prevention projects so that experts across a wide area can share information and work together – starting a conversation that is open to all.

    We were able to show clips of the course itself during the event, and teachers said that the combination of infographics, real life scenarios and handy pop-up tips would ensure that the common indicators of abuse remained at the forefront of everyone’s minds. It is our hope that in the future, rather than having pockets of knowledge and understanding about different types of abuse, every safeguarder will have instant access to information, as well as an understanding of how to deal with disclosures of abuse

    Natalie, a youth outreach worker, was also delighted that the course brings together expertise form so many areas. A common complaint this morning was that schools were simply not aware that instances of abuse were being missed out on because children felt that they couldn’t approach their teachers. Varied and inconsistent reactions to child abuse, as well as a lack of teacher training in this area have meant that sadly, pupils do not always feel able to approach their teachers. AVA’s Digital Prevention Platform aims to change all of this. The design of the database itself also ensures that preventing abuse will remain at the forefront of practitioner’s minds as they are able to edit the database, and include their own case studies in future.

    Perhaps one of the most impactful moments at the launch for me was the realisation that this elearning course has the potential to affect real change in the lives of vulnerable women and children. Abuse is a sensitive issue, but feeling comfortable talking about it is a crucial first step. AVA’s change campaign means that teachers will feel confident recognising abuse and putting the correct safeguarding procedures in place to protect the children in their care.

    To find out more please visit:

    Missed Saffron’s free seminar at the Learning Technologies Summer Forum last month? Don’t worry! A full recording, with all the slides, has now been posted.

    We explain how  the “LMS” is failing generation Y, and will certainly fail generation Z. Now, learners demand platforms that make a genuine emotional connection. Watch the recording to find out why a platform that puts learning into action is crucial to achieving a Return on Investment. We show how, using open source technology and a user experience based on the principles of NLP and behavioural science, any LMS can be transformed into an incredible launch pad for change campaigns. Find out:

    • Why the ‘enterprise LMS’ is a decade (or more) behind the sites which learners actually use
    • How dynamic dashboards press the neurological triggers that put learning into action
    • Why leveraging learner production (user-generated content) is the key to emotional investment
    • How Learning Experience Networks mean we can design the complete experience
    • How social network analysis enables us to identify leaders and launch viral behaviour-change campaigns

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